Best Foreign-Language Film
The Lives of Others (Germany)
As an East German officer (Ulrich Mühe) spies on a playwright, he is drawn into the life, love, and hidden passions of his target. Writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck questions whether any of us are capable of minding our own business.
Runners-up: Le Petit Lieutenant (France): It's a cops-and-killers film noir, plus the target audience actually knows what noir means. The French have long trusted featured roles to 50-plus actresses, and here the great star Nathalie Baye turns in an arresting performance (sorry!) as a police commandant…The Syrian Bride (Israel): The simple story of a young woman from the Golan Heights who plans to marry a Syrian runs deep with currents of politics and family crisis…Volver (Spain): Pedro Almodóvar's magical ghost story brings a deceased mother back to advise and comfort her daughters…Water (India): Maddening and inspiring, a woman's battle against a system that marginalizes widows echoes the rise of modern India.
51 Birch Street, directed by Doug Block
As the director's parents speak to the camera about their 54-year marriage, we ask, “Why am I watching this?” Then we're told Block's mother has died. Then his father marries his secretary from 40 years ago. Then Block finds his mom's secret diaries. And then things really get interesting. The question is, how much do you really want to know about your parents?
Runners-up: 49 Up Michael Apted's every-seven-years look at a group of British men and women finds them all facing middle age…An Inconvenient Truth The biggest thaw of all turns out to be in Al Gore, who's disarmingly charming in this global warming lecture film…Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater The one-time presidential candidate’s granddaughter, C.C. Goldwater, gives us a fresh and surprisingly personal look at a man who changed the face of American politics…Wordplay Crossword puzzles are exciting. Really.
Terry Bradshaw, Failure to Launch
“I am not a movie star!” Terry Bradshaw insists. Maybe not, but the Hall of Fame quarterback and FOX NFL Sunday host comes awfully close in this, his first major film role (we won't count his two cameos as himself in a couple of Burt Reynolds's old Cannonball Run movies). He's riotously exasperated as a dad with a stay-at-home son (Matthew McConaughey)—but the real eyeopener is the tenderness of his performance with the wonderful Kathy Bates as his wife. A couple more roles like this and Bradshaw may have to take back his protest.
Best Intergenerational Movie
Akeelah and the Bee, written and directed by Doug Atchison
Some of us were a little skeptical about a movie produced by Starbucks. But if at times Akeelah and the Bee seems to be a big, sweet Venti Caramel Macchiato of a film, it's also a compelling portrait of generations pulling together to help an 11-year-old girl go from ghetto to greatness in a national spelling bee. Plucky Akeelah (Keke Palmer) finds a hero in a gleefully grumpy neighborhood professor (Laurence Fishburne) who bears a personal burden of his own.
Runners-up: Aurora Borealis Depression, dementia, and suicide are the solemn themes of this story about a young man's last-ditch effort to relate to his grandfather…Brooklyn Lobster The Giorgio family (headed by Danny Aiello and Jane Curtin) struggle to save the seafood shop that's been part of their identity for more than 65 years…Little Miss Sunshine It puts the fun back into dysfunctional family…Quinceañera Rejected by their families, a pregnant Latino teenager and her gay cousin find shelter in the home of their great-granduncle. (Warning: Our runners-up all have well-earned R ratings for sexual and language content.)